Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets.
With these words Jesus continues to teach about the Law of Moses as the Sermon on the Mount continues. He takes some of the most important topics and explains to his disciples, in specific terms, what it means to be “more faithful than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees in doing what God requires” (See Day 23).
I am now on Day 59. I have studying Jesus’ great sermon on the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets since Day 17 which means I’ve done 41 reflections on this subject. So when he says he’s summing it all up in one sentence certainly gets my attention. I always say that you can tell if someone really understands their subject matter they should be able to express themselves simply and concisely. This is about as simple as it gets.
So for those of us who have short attention spans, Jesus gives us a great slogan. Think about some of the all-time great ad slogans – “Where’s the beef,” “You deserve a break today,” “Just do it,” etc. Do you think any of those slogans will stand up for 2000 years? I think not. This slogan has not only endured; it has become a universally accepted part of the whole world’s ethos.
One of the things that make Jesus so hard to follow is that he was a really, really super smart guy. He was a very deep thinker, super deep, so it’s really hard for those of us who aren’t so smart to keep up with him and figure out what he’s trying to say. But here, in this statement, is something we can all understand – The Golden Rule.
He says that this is how we should interpret and apply all religious law (which is really about relating to God and to other people: Do for others what you want them to do for you.
What this essentially says is use a little empathy when interpreting religious law. It’s not just a mental exercise. It’s inappropriate to be cold and detached and analytical and legalistic. Jesus says to be compassionate. Remember, no judgments allowed (see Day 54).
Before I point my finger at someone else I need to ask myself how I would feel if I were in the other guy’s shoes. Should I criticize, argue, and accuse, or should I just be a good friend and listen and share and discuss? Do I provide answers or just ask questions? Should I insist that they listen to me or encourage them to listen to God? Should I shun the other person or accept them unconditionally?
While the Golden Rule is a great motto, it’s also important to remember the limitations of slogans. One problem is that I may not know what I would want in a particular situation until it actually happens to me. For example, my dad always said that he didn’t want to prolong his life by any artificial means, but when he actually started dying at the age of 93 he would have done anything to stay alive.
Also, what I want is not necessarily what you want. In our legal system in the US we modify the Golden Rule by applying a “reasonable person” test – for example, when a person accuses another person of sexual harassment, the test in court is not whether or not that particular person felt they were being harassed; the test in court is whether a “reasonable person” would consider it to be harassment. So the slogan becomes, “Do what a “reasonable person” would want you to do.” For me, this might take a little research because I’m a little strange and not particularly reasonable. (joke).
Of course the very best option would be to know what you want because I have have reached out and gotten to know you, your likes, and dislikes. The best option is not just empathy but love, and I can’t really love someone if I don’t know them. (Also see Day 25).
So I’m ending this with Norman Rockwell’s artistic interpretation “The Golden Rule.” It was one of his later works, painted in 1961. So beautiful. Unlike his earlier works, it’s not just about nice happy families and cute kids exploring their world. He shares a bigger vision – the world at peace, celebrating its diversity. Unity, not uniformity. Kind of like Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous vision in his “I Have a Dream” speech. Kind of like that Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus keeps talking about.
What does this scripture say to you?